THE CASE FOR KRAMER
By Chris Wood
Much has been said about Jerry Kramer being overlooked once again for induction into the National Football League Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame Senior Selection Committee has announced once again that Kramer won’t be one of the candidates to be considered for the class of 2016. Disappointingly for Packers fans, it means there’s no possibility of him being enshrined with Brett Favre, who is likely to be inducted in his first year of eligibility.
It is the 10th time, having been a finalist initially in 1974 and in ’75, ’76, ’78, ’79, ’80, ’81, ’84, ’87 and most recently, as a Senior Committee candidate in 1997. He’s been considered for over 40 years but unfortunately, there’s still no bust in Canton representing him as having finally received the highest honor in the sport.
Kramer played right guard for the Packers from 1958 to ’68. With Fuzzy Thurston on the left flank, the two were key components of Lombardi’s signature play “The Packer Sweep.” And in one of the most iconic moments ever known in the sport (or any sport for that matter), it was his block against Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Jethro Pugh with some help from Center Ken Bowman that allowed Bart Starr to get into the end zone and score the winning touchdown in the Ice Bowl. It was in the final seconds of the NFL 1966 Championship game and in a sense, the Packers’ “signature moment” of the Glory Years. It resulted in them winning their fifth NFL Championship in seven years and third straight title, a feat that had only been duplicated in NFL history by the Packers back in 1929-31.
Kramer received many accolades over his career with the Packers. Some of the highlights include the five World Championship titles including the first two Super Bowls. He was selected to the All-Pro first team five times and named to three Pro Bowls. Additionally, he was named as a guard on the NFL 50th Anniversary Team in 1970 which was selected by voters at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ironically, he is the only member of that team who is not actually in the Hall of Fame itself.
As if to put an exclamation mark on it, he was also voted by an NFL Network production called “Top 10 Not in the Hall of Fame” as the number one player in that group. Notably, he was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1975.
Other highlights include being named MVP of the 1962 Championship game against the New York Giants after having kicked three field goals to score nine of the teams 16 points. The usual Packers kicker was Paul Hornung, who was unable to play that day due to being in the Service. Kramer stepped in to do double-duty at the last minute to lead the Packers to a 16-7 victory.
He ended up hitting nine of eleven field goal attempts that season for an NFL best 81.8 percentage and contributed another 38 extra points of 39 attempts to finish as the Packers number three scorer for the year. Keep in mind that this was in the era of the straight-ahead kicker with the square-toe shoe. Just six of fourteen placekickers in the league that year managed to have better than a 50 percent completion rate.
He also became a best-selling author along with Dick Schaap for writing Instant Replay in 1968 which actually may have ended up being part of the reason that he’s been excluded from the Hall of Fame (but more on that later).
More importantly, he founded the “Gridiron Greats” assistance fund which provides retired players with financial assistance, coordination of social services and other help due to disability or other problems.
THE SELECTION PROCESS:
Currently, there are 46 members of the media who vote on who gets into the Hall of Fame. Of that group, nine are on the Seniors Committee, which nominates two players who have been retired 25 years or more to be placed on the ballot. Kramer was a senior nominee in 1997 but didn’t receive enough votes to win, marking the 10th time he’s been a finalist.
It has been suggested by some people “in the know” that maybe the process should be tweaked to have some people besides sportswriters on the selection team. The idea has been brought up to have people who have actually played the game, coached, or been involved on the personnel side or very directly in some other capacity, as a part of the selection process.
As one NFL team insider put it: “I think it’s really difficult, particularly for a lot of sportswriters to understand the significance of how good a lineman was, particularly an offensive lineman. They tend to go on stats. They have presenters and it depends on how good they do but the reality is—and I talked to a lot of them over the years when they ask about players—I just think more of a football presence is needed. People who have actually played it, personnel people from different eras; you really need to consult those people. They can unearth some things that maybe have a better understanding of the game (as) to who really were great players.”
It stands to reason that if a few of the players and coaches who are already in the Hall were allowed to be part of the process, it would bring a deeper knowledge and greater understanding of whom the best and most deserving players are.
If nothing else, it would certainly seem to be an idea worth considering.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PACKER SWEEP AS IT RELATES TO KRAMER’S CANDIDACY:
Back in the early sixties, the rushing game had more emphasis placed on it than it does today, which was especially true in the case of the Packers. Lombardi’s trademark play—“the sweep”—required two offensive linemen who were quick, agile, and powerful for the play to be successful and Jerry Kramer at right guard with Fuzzy Thurston on the left side were the guys who made it work so effectively.
The play worked when quarterback Bart Starr took the snap from center and handed it off to a running back, which was usually Jim Taylor or Paul Hornung; who became known as “Thunder” and “Lightening” respectively. The back would charge to the right or left, right behind Kramer and Thurston. The two of them would very quickly pull out from their spots at the line of scrimmage with the snap of the ball to start the play and push opposing players aside or flatten them. It wasn’t a trick play but one that worked so well that opposing coaches were unable to stop it even when they knew it was coming. Simply put, there was little they could do about it and it became the most devastating running play in the league.
The play’s success depended on Kramer and Thurston executing their moves effectively. While it was beautiful in its simplicity, it was very effective to the point of becoming one of the attributes of Lombardi’s Packers teams that opposing teams were intimated by and fearful of.
Lombardi said and always held to the idea that after all was said and done, football was a game of blocking and tackling and the team that did it best, won. Kramer and Thurston did it extremely well against the run and in tandem, their whole was greater than the sum of the parts. They did it with great efficiency. With them leading the way, Hornung, Taylor and the other running backs were consistently able to “run to daylight,” as Lombardi titled his book about the 1967 season.
Kramer was a component of one of the greatest rushing attacks in history, which resulted in the two main running backs’ enshrinement in the Hall of Fame and should be taken into consideration when considering his candidacy. Another one of his accolades was being named as one of the greatest guards in the NFL’s first 50 years.
SPECULATION ON THE ELECTION PROBLEM:
There has been something referred to as “Lombardi era fatigue” when the talk turns to Packers Hall of Fame inductee candidates these days. It is the idea there are so many of Lombardi’s players already enshrined that there shouldn’t be any more.
In fact, there are 11 players plus Vince Lombardi, which is significant but there is no doubt all of them are deserving of the honor. This argument is ridiculous when you look at the facts because by the late sixties the Packers were the most dominant team the NFL had ever known.
From 1960 to 1967, they finished first in the western division six times and won five NFL Championships, capping the last two off with additional victories in the first two Super Bowls.
For another Lombardi era player to have that kind of success held against him is a wrong to him as well as to the team.
Another thing that’s been suggested to be possibly going against his candidacy is his authorship of Instant Replay in 1968 (with Dick Schaap). The book was a tell-all on the ’67 season and the first time that people were able to get a look inside an NFL locker room, which undoubtedly rubbed some the wrong way. But again, that has nothing to do with how he played the game and his accomplishments therein and therefore should not be held against him.
Then there is the idea that his candidacy has somehow become “shopworn” and has the stigma of multiple tries with the result being that he’s still “not quite worthy of being a Hall of Famer.” Since he’s been a finalist ten times over a period of 40 years, the idea goes something like: “if he wasn’t considered worthy of enshrinement by the sportswriters who watched him play, how can those voting today, who never actually saw him play, vote him in?”
The answer to that is it’s the job of the Seniors Committee to bring two finalists to be considered every year and since Kramer was a finalist 10 times, the electors thought him very deserving of consideration all of those years.
All of the reasons that have been suggested as to why it hasn’t gotten done by now either don’t hold any water upon closer examination or simply are not fair to even be considered.
The bottom line is Jerry Kramer’s sterling resume’ is right up there on par with the other offensive linemen in the Pro Football Hall Fame. At 79 years of age, his days are numbered and it’s high time the electors have him join them!
Thank you for your consideration and if you agree, you can express it by signing the “Jerry Kramer for Pro Football Hall of Fame” Facebook petition.